Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Almost Moon - Alice Sebold

The Basics: The Almost Moon, Alice Sebold, 2007, 291 pages, hardcover

How I found it: I believe this was on some bestseller lists last year. I also read Sebold's previous book, The Lovely Bones, a few years ago. I didn't love it, but since it was okay I thought I would read her next one.

What's it about?: This novel is about a woman who kills her elderly mother rather than send her to a 'home'. She spends the rest of the book trying to cover up the murder and reliving her terrible childhood and her relationship with her mother.

Did I like it?: I hated this book. While it was competently written, the plot was not engaging. Instead it was just grim and tiresome. The protagonist was not likable, despite the fact that Sebold obviously wanted the reader to sympathize with her. Although the book itself is not scary, I found myself having nightmares while I was reading it, which is never a good sign. I couldn't wait to finish reading this so I didn't have to think about its deplorable characters anymore.

Will you like it?: I suppose it is obvious that I don't recommend this book. Unless you enjoy morbidity and relate to people who murder their parents, stay away. Sebold's The Lovely Bones was also a bit morbid, so perhaps stay away from Sebold altogether.

But don't take my word for it: The usual blurbs (one of which actually calls the book disappointing) and reader reviews (which are almost all negative) from Amazon, a review from Mostly Fiction, a more positive one from the San Fransisco Chronicle, one from New York's The Village Voice, another from The New York Times, and one from

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Turtle Valley - Gail Anderson-Dargatz

The Basics: Turtle Valley, Gail Anderson-Dargatz, 2007, 292 pages, hardcover

How I found it: I can't really remember how I read about it, but I know I must have been interested in reading it because it is by a female Canadian author, and it is about a region I am familiar with

What's it about?: This novel tells the story of a woman who must return to her aging parents rural home to help them pack up in the face of a looming forest fire. The home is located in Turtle Valley, which is near Salmon Arm, BC in the Shuswap Lake area. The protagonist, Kat, is reminded through the events of the story, of her complicated past, and the difficulties that are to come, such as her parents declining health and the aftermath of her young husband's stroke. Kat also discovers things about her parents and grandparents, who lived in their historic farmhouse, as she packs up the house in anticipation of its destruction at the hands of the fire. It's a complicated story about family, happiness, and self-discovery.

Did I like it?: I really enjoyed this book, and I actually couldn't put it down. I've never read a book by Anderson-Dargatz before, and I have no idea why. I don't think I had even heard of her before this, which is surprising. She writes beautifully and has a very engaging style. Her characters are likable and well-developed. The plot of this novel is also quite well developed, which several story-lines that all weave together well and are brought together in the lives of the family.

Will you like it?: I highly recommend this book. It's a great story and is well-written. I couldn't put it down and you probably won't want to either. My only disclaimer is that like most things I like, it's a bit of a woman's book and probably great for bookclubs.

But don't take my word for it: The usual publisher-approved blurbs from Amazon, a review from Vancouver's alternative weekly The Georgia Straight, one from January Magazine, info about the book from the author's website, and an excerpt of the book printed in Canadian Living Magazine,

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lawyers Gone Bad: Money, Sex and Madness in Canada's Legal Profession - Philip Slayton

The Basics: Lawyers Gone Bad: Money, Sex and Madness in Canada's Legal Profession, Philip Slayton, 2007, 294 pages, hardcover

How I found it: This book was in the Canadian news a lot in the summer of 2007 when it came out. Most notably, it inspired a Maclean's Magazine cover story entitled "Lawyers are Rats" that inflamed the Canadian legal community (see here for a summary). In the fall, I went (out of curiosity) to a talk that Slayton gave about his opinions on the reform of regulation of the legal profession. As a result, I was curious to see what all the fuss was about.

What's it about?: Each of this book's chapters details the crimes and indiscretions of a particular lawyer gone bad. The wrongs committed by these people include money laundering, stealing money, sex with clients, and all kinds of other dirty dealings. Slayton asserts that these cases are special because they often were committed by lawyers who were otherwise successful in the profession. At the end of the book, Slatyon closes with a few pages containing his thoughts on how the legal profession might be reformed, including the problems with the self-governance system.

Did I like it?: This book was interesting in the same way Jerry Springer or a highway car wreck is interesting: other people's problems are on full display in all their sensationalistic glory. Overall, I didn't really like the book that much. Slayton was mostly into criticizing the people he profiled for how they had royally screwed up. However, the real problem with the legal profession, in my opinion, is that lawyers don't screw up royally very often - instead they just pad their billings here and there, fail to report things to the law society - minor stuff. When I saw Slayton speak he emphasized these little screw ups as the real problem, and spoke at length about how he left the self-governing provincial bar societies were at the root of the problem. However, that argument is barely a footnote in his book, probably because if it were more prominent, he never would have got the media coverage he did.

Will you like it?: If you are truly looking for some sensational stories about 'lawyers gone bad' then you might find this book entertaining as you make yourself feel better by reading about someone who really screwed up. However, if you just read this book to see what all the hype was about, you might be a bit disappointed. And if you are involved in the legal profession, it is likely that you are boycotting this book altogether due to the media backlash against lawyers that it generated.

But don't take my word for it: The usual publisher-approved blurbs from Amazon, a review from Vancouver's alternative weekly newspaper, The Georgia Strait, one from The Toronto Star, and a collection of positive reviews from the author's web page.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto - Michael Pollan

The Basics: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, Michael Pollan, 2008, 244 pages, hardcover

How I found it: I read Pollan's last book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, a few years ago and loved it. In fact, I even named it best non-fiction of 2006. In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan explores where our food comes from, but he doesn't really comment on what we should eat. I wanted to read In Defense of Food since it was promoted as commenting on what we should eat.

What's it about?: The sub-tile of this book is "An Eater's Manifesto", and this book really is a manifesto. Pollan attempts to convince us of his argument, then urges us to lead a quiet revolution through our food choices. The mantra for the book is "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants". Pollan begins by explaining that by "food" he means unprocessed natural foods, not the overly-processed, additive-addled pseudo foods that dominate our grocery stores, and that our grandparents likely would not have recognized as food. He examines the declining nutritional value of our food and challenges the science behind modern notions of what is nutritional. Overall, he advocates a return to whole, unprocessed foods that are better for us, and taste better.

Did I like it?: I enjoyed this book a bit because to some degree, I agree with Pollan: I'd like to eat more whole, unprocessed foods. I have a variety of minor stomach ailments, and find that I feel better when I eat unprocessed foods and cook from scratch. It was nice to see a pseudo-scientific and definitely logical explanation for why those unprocessed foods make me feel better. Some people may take issue with Pollan's condemnation of nutritional science, but I found it quite convincing.

Will you like it?: If you have read The Omnivores Dilemma, this is a good follow-up book. As well, if like many people, you are becoming interested in local eating and whole foods, this is a great book to read. As well, if you are the kind of person that has read a bunch of diet books, or tried a variety of diets, you might find the nutrition section of the book interesting since it debunks (or attempts to) a lot of the traditional diet literature.

But don't take my word for it: The usual publishers blurbs and reader reviews from Amazon, a review from the International Herald Tribune, one from the Wise Bread website, another from the London Times, and one from the LA Times.